Making saints out of sinners

November 11, 2008 at 9:19 pm (Book Commentary) (, , , , , , , , , )


I read an interesting book this weekend. It’s a fiction book about a subject I have no interest in at all; NASCAR. Admittedly, there are probably many in my gene pool who would love this sport. After all, my grandfather was a big fine of wrestling before it became such a spectacular showy spectacle. Myself, I don’t see the entertainment value in watching cars go fast around a track for hours and hours.
St. Dale is a southern novel about NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt. It is written by Sharyn McCrumb. She writes Southern Appalachian novels and Elizabeth MacPherson mysteries. I read her for her Appalachian ballad novels, which I consider Gothic, full of mysticism and magic realism.

St. Dale encompasses a pilgrimage, a journey to the sacred places of Dale Earnhardt. The racetracks that shaped who he was. Thirteen people sign up for the Dale Earnhardt Memorial Tour shortly after his death and go on to pay homage to his memory.

There are the sisters Justine, a true fan; Bekasu, a judge who is there under distress and their cousin Cayle, whose father named her after another racing legend. The newlyweds, Shane and Karen, are married on the racetrack at the tour’s first stop. The old couple, long time fans, Jim and Arlene are reliving old glories as he tries to save her from the lose of her memories.

The Rev. Bill Knight, is new to the phenomena of NASCAR, and is there to supervise the orphan Matthew, who is dying. The reverend is not from around here, he is not Southern and is our eyes and ears on this strange journey through unfamiliar Southern culture.

Terrence Palmer, a New Yorker and Sarah Nash have only just met. They are on the tour because of the generosity of Terrence’s father. Rounding out the group are Ray Reeve, who is in Agro-business and Jesse Franklin, a county auditor.

Harley Claymore, the tour guide is an ex-driver who wants back onto the NASCAR circuit.

All are seeking and experiencing miracles that they attribute to Dale Earnhardt.

The book, itself, is a twist on Canterbury Tales. For one not knowledgeable about NASCAR it serves as a short history to the sport. I can now drop names such as Junior and the Bodines and know what I am talking about. But, at the core, St. Dale is about miracles and why we, as a community, feel the need to canonize the dead. It explains, at the basest level, why Elvis and Diana (you know who I mean) captivate our lives even after their deaths. This book needs to be read and dissected alongside Canterbury Tales.

For a lighter tour of NASCAR, without all that distracting history, I would like to recommend the Alex Barnaby series by Janet Evanovich. They are set in Florida which is where St. Dale ends and are a lighter, more modern take on the subject and also loads of fun.



  1. Hector said,

    I went to my first wrestling match a few weeks ago. I loved it! 🙂

  2. gigi said,

    My maternal grandfather loved watching wrestling in the sixties (a long time ago). I wonder what he would think of how the showmanship has evolved? My brother and nephews gets their love of wrestling from him.

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